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Have you ever been acquainted with a person who makes a lifelong impact? A person who, although the exact opposite you in every aspect, showed you the right path to take? Someone with whom your life would be entirely different having not known them. I have had the honor to have has met such a person. His name is Captain XXXXXX.
Captain XXXXXX was a competent, intelligent and dedicated Naval officer who had just taken over command of our ship after the previous captain had been transferred. He was not impressive in stature but, just by the way he comported himself he seemed a whole lot larger. For the first few days, he was to be found everywhere on the ship, asking questions and making suggestions on how things could be done better. As he grew accustomed to the ways the ship was being run, and the crew to his presence, he seemed like a fair and reasonable type of commanding officer. That image was due to fade very quickly in a few weeks.
I was the Leading petty officer for the OI division onboard the ship. OI Division consisted of 55 Operations Specialist (OS) who were responsible for gathering, processing, displaying, evaluating and disseminating pertinent tactical data from various sources. These sources included air and surface radars, sonar, electronic warfare and intelligence. Our group had one of the highest stress jobs imaginable especially when at sea for operations because each individual had to accomplish five tasks at one time. My approach to running the division, at the time, was one where I removed the needless items and tried to keep everything light and easy. I figured that since the job and duties were already stressful enough, why add to the anxiety.
About one month later, during our first time out to sea with the new captain, he decided to observe how my division did its job at sea. Usually there is not a problem with this because all the major officers are in our workspace all the time while at sea and everyone is use to their presence. This time however, for some unknown reason, the very moment the captain came into the room everyone started to make foolish mistakes. What made matters worse as they tried to correct the mistakes the captain would question them and the mistakes multiplied. It seems rather humorous now when I look back on the situation. Individuals would could control five F-14 aircraft at one time blindfolded, talk on two radios simultaneously and write backwards, now reduced to blithering morons trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. You could sense the tension level rising and I could see that the captain was becoming perturbed by not getting the answers he wanted.
The captain immediately asked who was in charge, to which I spoke up and said I was. He motioned for me to step outside the workcenter with him where he began to chew me out up one side and down the other. He told me, in the most glowing terms available, that it was the most pathetic group of people he had ever seen. I tried to explain that everyone was nervous because they were trying to make a good impression for him. My explanation seemed to have no effect and the captain essentially told me to get them to straightened up or he would do it himself.
As he stormed back to his stateroom, I though to myself Well now, isnt this pleasant.” This was someone I had to deal with on a daily basis while conducting my duties. I also found out later, from others onboard the ship, that my run-in with the captain was not an isolated incident and it was happening to the other divisions.
Shortly thereafter, the captain announced, over the ships’ loudspeaker, that all officers not on watch were to assemble in the wardroom immediately. Our division officer left when the message was over and he did not return for about two hours. When the division officer returned, he called all senior petty officers into his office for a meeting. I knew something was wrong when the officer closed the door. The Lieutenant told us that the meeting with the captain was not good. He went on to tell us that the captain was not pleased with the ship and the crews conduct and then gave us a list of the things that were wrong. The list was four legal pages long, front and back, of the most meaningless and picayune infractions. As I read through the list, I thought to myself what have we gotten ourselves into with this new captain.”I promptly bestowed the nickname of Captain Queeg on him because he was similar in manner to the captain in the movie The Caine Mutiny.For anyone not familiar with Captain Queeg, in the movie, the moment he arrived on board, he imposes a strict disciplinary code on the U.S.S. Caine with a manic emphasis on cleanliness.
The previous captain was affable, approachable and well liked and respected by the entire crew. His style of leadership was what I modeled mine after. Keep it simple and easy but this new captain was different. He was, as I came to find out in numerous future meetings, dictatorial, obstinate and critical. If something did not meet with his standards, he would immediately correct the problem however he saw fit. Tact was not one of his strong suits and he was prone to shouting at subordinates whenever and wherever. Everything was to be done the way the captain wanted it done. I already knew I did not like this new captain at all.
After a few weeks the, what seemed to be, daily berating schedule was becoming less frequent and I started to see the method to the captains madness. Although I was never able to know more about the captain personally, on a professional level I started to understand him. I realized that he wanted people to reach inside themselves to find that little something extra that everyone is capable of providing. Not just settle for the mediocre or enough to get by with but, to strive to provide the best results at any task set before you. Of course he was a hard taskmaster and expected 110%, he was the captain. The problem was not his, it was that the crew and people in charge had forgotten the basics of how to be productive.
I had to step back and look at things the way the captain saw them. This gave me the chance to bring up the reputation of the division in the captains’ eyes. I gathered up the division and told them of what I believed was the secret of how to keep the captain content. The plan was that we would set the example by not just settling for enough to get by but, upgrading our standards to what he expected.
Of course, there were the usual cries of dissatisfaction with the entire situation. I went on to explain that it was for our own good to bring ourselves up to the captains standards to prevent future problems.
From then on, anytime information that was relayed to others, we ensured it was much more than what was needed. When morning muster was called, our division would be the first to arrive and last to leave. Our berthing and work areas were kept immaculate. There was more but, the ace in the hole was whenever the captain entered the workspace, someone would shout Captain in Combat and those who could would jump to attention. This plan of action seemed to work because the very next day the captain walked into the workspace and found most of the people at attention. I noticed a slight smile cross his face and, with a quick carry on from him, he left the room. There was a collective sigh of relief as everyone looked at each other with the satisfaction of now knowing what the secret to working with and keeping the captain happy.
It took a few months but slowly and surely everything started to fall into place. The crew stopped complaining and started working better together. This made me realize that maybe this captains style of leadership had its good points at the cost of being popular. I still used this method today, in that, I come right out with what I expect from people who are assigned to me. I notice the initial resentment but after a brief time they start to understand why we do our job this way.